run bike swim

born to run (I was not)

November 10, 2013

Running is my everything, so it’s been a pretty shitty past few months for me.

First this happened. Then this:

Why I thought upgrading my system software while Mercury is in retrograde would be a good idea I have no idea. And now an old nemesis is back. Knee pain. Like, really motherfucker? (Is motherfucker one word or two, no one’s gotten back to me on this.)

This is my situation: I run for a mile which is followed by a sharp stabby-esque pain directly behind my knee. Then the shit storm wraps around the anterior and is exacerbated by each extension/stride. It’s almost impossible to point to a specific area–which is probably why my fleet of attendant medical professionals have an equally difficult time in diagnosing the situation. “Sir, we can’t tell you what’s wrong if you can’t tell us exactly where it hurts.”

I’ve searched high and low on the interwebs and it’s as if no one knows what this particular pain is. I am all alone in the universe. Even my current orthopedic, specializing in sports medicine, basically just shrugs at me like I am some insane person.

“So, Is it my IT band?”


“Is it a popliteal cyst?”


“Hamstring tear?”


OK, thanks. Good. Good to know.

As I am confirmed to run the Paris Marathon Spring of 2014, it would be great to settle this matter.

About three years ago I had not one, but two… two medial meniscus tears. Two surgeries which kept me from running for about a year–which was fine, I hadn’t fully become the obsessive runner I am today. You can read how well I handled the first surgery here.

All I want to do is run and all my body wants me to do is not run. Actually, the engine is fine–it’s the fucking transmission. If people were cars there’s no doubt I would be something fast (and charming), but also constantly in the shop needing a shit-ton of maintenance. The engine is definitely in the trunk on this make and model.

I recently read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall–if you’re not a runner there is a great chance you stopped reading this 8 paragraphs ago. If you are a runner, there is a 98% chance you have already adopted Born to Run as your manifesto. If you’re not a runner, and happen to still be reading this: the novel chronicles one man’s quest to answer the question, “why does my foot hurt?” The author’s search for answers sends him into the heart of Mexico tracking down a tribe of super-athlete long distance runners, the Tarahumara. Along with a band of eccentric ultra-marathon runners the book culminates into “the greatest race the world has never seen”; however, the largest and most profound abstract is this: throw away your running shoes. You’re doing it wrong.

Each chapter is segued with anecdotes from anthropologists, sociologists and medical professionals all designed to support the hypothesis that you, me and everyone you know is born to run. Not just run, but run long, long distances.

After reading Born to Run I felt like I could run 100 miles on the balls of my naked and disgusting runner’s feet. Run forever.

I loved this book, but I have some doubts. I guess I am struggling with this presupposition that we are all born physically tabula rasa–that anyone, at any age, at any level can be an efficient, pain-free runner simply because somewhere rooted deep down in our DNA lies a 20,000 year old dormant set of instructions. I mean, what if you were born with a modicum of congenital defects and were handed some super shit biomechanics? In this case, I would argue you, (ahem… me), I was not born to run.

Boston Half-Marathon, 1:40, 7:35 pace

Boston Half-Marathon,
1:40, 7:35 pace

It’s like saying we are all “born to see”. After all, it’s how we hunted and gathered and built shit. But guess what? Some of us were born with shitty eye sight and have to wear glasses to overcome nature’s short-sightedness (pun intended). “But it’s because you’re not seeing with correct form, man! Throw away those glasses, man, we were born to see!” No, actually, I can’t see without glasses even if I squint super hard.

Dachshunds were selectively bred to dig holes to flush out badgers and other earthen dwelling creatures. Anyone with a Dachshund can tell you their backyard is filled with holes as the breed instinctively has a propensity to dig. This is what makes me think that running has faded from my DNA map: the Dachshund has only been around for 500 years.

I’m fairly certain for the past 500 years my relatives have been selectively breeding to not run.

I’m not suggesting that there isn’t improvement to be had on my part and/or that I can’t improve upon my form. But will I ever run without pain? Am I limited by my shit skeletal construction? Was I really born to run?

Regardless, I do have this insane desire to lace up my running shoes and go! go! go!…  but why? Aside from the obvious tertiary benefits, such as having little to no body fat, perhaps there really is some weird metaphorical hole digging at play. The crux, for me at least, is that the construct of the want is separated from the need by about 19,500 years.

I have a little under five months to prepare for the Paris Marathon and ten months to train for the BostonTri. Now that I have been instructed to take a month off from running I am swimming almost daily. I’ve met with a swim coach and routinely work on drills to develop a more efficient freestyle stroke. I’m finding I love getting into the pool almost as much as I love running which makes me think…

I don’t know. Maybe I was born to swim.

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